Category Archives: Drinks

Beefeater Gin Review

As part of a series of Beefeater product features over at the Mixoloseum, last Thursday’s Drink Night (TDN) theme was Beefeater gin. As usual at the Mixoloseum Bar, many original drinks were created, submitted and enjoyed. The next online event will feature Beefeater 24, a new luxury gin and its introduction to the American market. This new product is differentiated from their original one by the additions of Japanese sencha and Chinese green teas, as well as grapefruit peels.

Dan Warner, brand ambassador for Beefeater gin, joined in the fun. He shared with us some fascinating facts about Beefeater, like the fact that there are only 6 employees at their sole plant in London producing 2.4 million cases a year. Beefeater is the only major distiller left producing London Dry gin in the city of London. He also dropped tidbits like the Negroni being a favorite of Desmond Payne, Beefeater’s celebrated Master Distiller. Dan even hinted that he might return on the TDN discussing Beefeater 24 on 4/30.

beefeater

The Gin

I’ve always been pleased with Beefeater as a mixing gin, but in order to taste the individual components, I tasted it neat and then slightly diluted with water. The first smell on opening a bottle yielded the sharp aroma of juniper and citrus. Upon sipping the undiluted spirit, I tasted the rounded soft spiciness of the coriander. The mouth feel was rich and even a bit oily. The mid palate had a bit of a pleasant woody flavor, probably from the licorice and angelica root. The finish was bitter but not lingering. Overall the impression was very crisp and clean.

They don’t call this London Dry Gin for nothing. Beefeater is proud of their 24 hour maceration claiming that the “long steeping time gives a gentler extraction, but builds complexity, and fixes the aroma in the spirit more solidly.” The resulting bold and clean flavor makes it a great mixing gin. I love the sharp citrus tang of Beefeater relative to other gins. When you mix a drink with Beefeater, you know that you’ve put gin in there! Sometimes you want the gin to be the star, like in a gin and tonic, a Martinez, or a Clover Club. Orange drinks like a Bronx or Monkey Gland really benefit from a bold gin like this; otherwise the drink can get a little soft on you. But other times you want your gin to play more of a  supportive role. For a drink like a Suffering Bastard, I recommend a mellower, more rounded gin.

Just recently at the market, I happened to come across fresh bergamot fruit, and having been waiting over a year and a half  since reading about the following recipe at Married with Dinner, I snapped up the last one and made the following:
fridayafterfive

Friday After FiveMarried with Dinner

  • 1 ounce gin
  • 1/2 ounce green Chartreuse
  • 3/4 ounce bergamot juice
  • 1 dash Herbsaint, absinthe or Pernod

Shake over ice, and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a bergamot twist, if desired.

I have to say that this was my first experience with a real bergamot and I was totally impressed. As soon as my peeler bit into the peel, the pleasantly sharp odor of fine Earl Grey tea sprang into the air and surrounded me. I peeled the whole thing and set the peels out to dry for later use. This bergamot was quite tart, so I ended up adding a dash more Chartreuse to sweeten it a bit. The Friday After Five was still pretty tart, but the aromas of the bergamot peel worked well with the aromatics of the gin and the herbal sweetness of the Chartreuse. I was reminded of Audrey Sander’s MarTEAni, made with Earl Grey tea infused gin. So much so that I was inspired to invent the:

Trans-Europa

  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 1/4 oz Earl Grey infused gin (Tanqueray – 4 tbsp loose tea to a bottle for 2 hours)
  • 3/4 oz bitter Seville orange juice
  • 1/4 oz green Chartreuse
  • 1/4 simple syrup (or more as needed)

Shake, strain and serve up with a bitter orange twist.

I’m a big fan of Beefeater gin because of its bold, high quality taste coupled with its affordable price point. I have been stocking Beefeater as my house gin for some time now because sometimes you just need a gin with some oomph when mixing. Personally, I’m really excited about the American release of Beefeater 24. I hope you can come on down to the Beefeater 24 TDN we are having on 4/30.

Advertisements

Highballs

So what is a highball? A highball is just a base spirit and mixer served over ice, ideally in a tall glass. Whiskey soda, rum’n’coke, gin’n’tonic, and 7’n’7 are easy to say and even easier to make. They are usually quite forgiving as to the amounts and qualities of various ingredients used.  However, Dale DeGroff in The Essential Cocktail cautions that a highball shouldn’t be too strong – if you want a strong drink, have a Martini or a Manhattan. A good guideline for a highball is 1 1/2 ounces spirit, maximum, and 4-5 oz of mixers.

So let’s start with one of my favorites, the Presbyterian. It’s like an upgraded whiskey and soda, but drier than a whiskey and ginger.
presby

Presbyterian (Degroff)

  • 1 1/2 oz rye, bourbon or blended whiskey
  • 2 oz ginger beer
  • 2 oz soda

Build over ice in a tall glass and garnish with a lemon peel.

A proper ‘Press’ needs a strong ginger beer with some oomph to it. Sweet supermarket ginger ales won’t cut it. I really like Rittenhouse rye in this one, but an affordable aged bourbon like Elijah Craig 12 y/o is also quite tasty. In the past, an economical blended whiskey would have been used, as the sweetness and carbonation of the ginger and soda takes the harsh edges off of the whiskey.

The Fallback

A common topic of discussion when cocktail geeks get together is what to order in bars that you know couldn’t make a ‘proper’ cocktail if you explained it to them for an hour. Highballs are a great fallback because most bartenders know them and they are hard to screw up. Even in cocktailian bars where every drink is carefully measured, the highballs get free-poured. However, that doesn’t mean that a sophisticated drink is out of reach, although you might have to talk your next airport bartender through this next one.
americano2

Americano (DeGroff)

  • 1 1/2 oz Campari
  • 1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth (Carpano)
  • 3-4 oz soda (or as little as a splash)

Build over ice in a tall glass. Garnish with an orange slice, if desired.

An Americano is a very satisfying refresher. I find that it makes a good introduction to Campari, as the bitterness is balanced a bit by the sweetness of the vermouth. Apparently the name comes from the American fashion of mixing different boozes together, which was somewhat novel in turn of the last century Italy. By the way, this drink is also the inspiration for the Negroni. The story goes that the Count wanted something stronger and had the soda replaced with gin.

Another fascinating topic is where the term ‘highball’ comes from, since it precedes the drink. The glass, presumably, was named after the drink. One early use of the word was in railroading –  the Encyclopedia Britanica says “One early type of American signal consisted of a large ball that was hoisted to the top of a pole to inform the engineman that he might proceed (hence, the origin of the term highball).”

The Glass

A highball glass is a straight sided cylindrical glass from 8-12 ounces. I’ll go out on a limb and say that a highball glass should be 10 oz for use with the pre-ice recipes of about 6 ounces that we’ve been using. But just try to buy one or two glasses that small at a homewares store. The American home market seems to demand bigger and bigger glasses -to the point where the highball has become a 14 oz chimney glass appropriate for a Zombie and all its lovely ice. Commercial service still uses smaller glass, but unfortunately a case of 10 oz glasses at a restaurant supply place is 36 glasses, probably more than you’ll ever need.

Highballs do not have to be carbonated – they can be made with juice as well. As an example, here is one I recently whipped up for a guest.madras

Madras

  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 3 oz cranberry juice cocktail
  • 1 1/2 oz orange juice

Build over ice in a tall glass.

One last thing about highballs – they are, of course, excellent hot weather drinks. Thirst quenching and refreshing, a tall icy gin and tonic is practically emblematic of summer.

Vieux Carré

New Orleans has been on my mind this week, with Mardi Gras being this last Tuesday and all. I’ve found that one of the more elusive classic New Orleans drinks to get out on the town is the Vieux Carré. It seems that few bars, even at Southern or Cajun/Creole restaurants, deem it necessary to have Bénédictine on hand, presumably due to the expense. I would remind them that there has always been a distinctly French influence on the cuisine of New Orleans, and this drink only uses 1 teaspoon. And you just can’t duplicate this drink without it.

The Vieux Carré is one of the few drinks that we conclusively know the origin of; it was invented in 1938 by Walter Bergeron at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans. Vieux Carré (meaning ‘Old Square’) is also one of the local names for the French Quarter. vieuxcarre

Vieux Carré

  • 1 oz rye whiskey
  • 1 oz cognac
  • 1 oz sweet vermouth
  • 1 tsp Bénédictine
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Stir with cracked ice, strain and garnish with a lemon twist and its oils.

This is a fine and balanced drink that turns out to be very sensitive to the exact amounts called for. When proper care is exercised in measuring, I love the way the spiciness of the rye and the sugar notes of the cognac mellow with the sweetness of the vermouth and the Bénédictine. Then the drink gets a quadruple blast of herbal complexity from the herbal liqueur, the vermouth and the two kinds of bitters. It’s kind of like a Manhattan, but smoother, sweeter, more refined, and more complex.

If I use 100 proof rye, I’ll back it down to 3/4 oz. Be careful when measuring the Benedictine; use a proper kitchen teaspoon and don’t overdo it or the drink will veer into cough syrup territory. While I have used brandy as a sub for the cognac, there is definitely room here for a nicer cognac. You can control the amount of water added by the fineness of the ice. Freshly hammered ice with a reasonable portion of crushed/powdered ice makes for a smoother potion. And, of course, with a classic mostly whiskey and bitters cocktail like this, be sure to get a goodly spray of lemon peel oil on the surface and rub the peel around the rim for a wonderful citrus entry as you bring the glass to your lips.

The Vieux Carré is really one of the most enjoyable signature New Orleans cocktails and it is a shame that more of the restaurants purporting to deliver the unique cuisine of the Crescent City do not serve it on their menus.

A note on pronunciation – I’ve heard a number of folks put the full Gallic gargle on the end ‘r’. But both proper French (note the accent on the é) and current New Orleans usage is ‘voo cah-ray’ or ‘voh cah-ray’, and of course some are going to say ‘view cah-ray’.

Margarita – America’s #1 Tequila Delivery Device

This last Sunday (2/22) was National Margarita Day. It may seem like a strange time of year to schedule this, but my hunch is that it is because limes are in season right now, and the best margaritas use fresh squeezed lime juice. Whatever you may say about commercial margaritas, we can thank this drink for bringing tequila to America. As recently as the 1950’s, tequila was seen as a tough man’s drink and wasn’t very popular at all. Let’s shake one up.

Margarita (7-4-3)

  • 1 3/4 oz Tequila
  • 1 oz orange liqueur (Cointreau/Citronge)
  • 3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice

Shake with cracked ice until frosty and strain into a chilled, salt rimmed (optional) glass.

margarita

No, I didn't drink that monster all in one sitting.

A margarita is really a simple drink, basically a New Orleans
Tequila Sour and a predecessor to the Cosmo, with its roots traced back to the Daisy. In fact, ‘margarita’ means ‘daisy’ in Spanish.

With so few ingredients, you really need to pay attention to each one. Make sure to get a ‘puro‘ (100% agave) tequila and look for ‘Hecho en Mexico‘ on the label. Otherwise it is likely to be low quality stuff shipped over the border in a tanker and USA bottled. Some prefer a blanco here, claiming the oaky notes of a reposado or añejo are unwelcome, but I disagree. Obviously the base tequila makes a huge difference, but my experience had been that this is a classic example of the kind of mixology that gives you a way to use more inexpensive bottlings. My house mixing tequila was the Margaritaville blanco (a cheap mixto), but I recently picked up some Lunazul reposado. It’s 100% agave and available at a very reasonable price point. Next, do yourself a favor and trade up that old Triple Sec for something better. Jay over at Oh Gosh! has a great write-up of bottlings. Continuing on with the ingredients, you absolutely must use fresh limes, and if necessary adjust sweetness with the liqueur to balance out any extra tart limes.

Variations

How much variation before it is no longer a margarita? Margaritas are quite bastardized these days, but the recipe is surprisingly flexible. I currently favor the 3-2-1 recipe I first tried after reading Regan’s Joy of Mixology, mostly because it is easy to remember. Before that I used a recipe of approximately 4-3-2. There are schools of thought that use some lemon, maybe some simple syrup and a fair number of the current crop of gourmet recipes includes some zest from the citrus. Gran Marnier is a common component of a ‘Cadillac Margarita’, but this is starting to stray a little far for my taste. Blood orange juice, pomegranate, mango and even passion fruit (lillikoi) have made their way into ‘margaritas’ I’ve seen in restaurants.

Going simpler, there are those that substitute agave nectar for the orange liqueur, to better taste the tequila, but I have trouble calling that a margarita.

Anyway, don’t forget about the venerable margarita when you are looking for a drink to make. I don’t make a heck of a lot of margaritas around the house (at least not in the winter) but it is a classic for a reason. And next time you find yourself sipping on a top-shelf tequila or mezcal, think about the humble margarita and its role in bringing that spirit to the American market.

Applejack – the Oldest American Spirit

Applejack. There’s kind of a backcountry mystique about it, probably rising out of the original way it was made as early as the 17th century in America. Farmers in northern climates would leave hard cider out in cold weather until ice formed. This was then removed, transforming and concentrating the cider into something with much more kick. Unfortunately, not only the ethanol and flavor, but all of the non-water components of the cider, such as methanol and congeners would be concentrated. Hangovers are caused by these compounds, and so this method is rarely used. But it didn’t require a still, and so anyone with a bunch of apples could make their own. Times, and equipment, have changed.

Pretty much the only applejack on the market today is made by Laird & Co. of New Jersey, and is 35% apple brandy mixed with 65% neutral grain spirits. For apple flavor, I much prefer their Straight Apple Brandy (100 proof) which is 100% apple based (20 lbs of apples per bottle!). Another good, though more expensive option, is the Clear Creek 8 year old Eau-de-Vie de Pomme, or their 2 year old Apple Brandy.

But enough about the spirit – let’s drink some!

One of the oldest recipes using applejack is the venerable Jack Rose. I ended up making 5 different recipes, and by the end I started to doubt the Torani pomegranate syrup I was using. The color often ended up a lurid magenta rather than a delicate rose and a harsh sugar edge crept in by the time the citrus was balanced. The best one to my taste was from Dale DeGroff’s new book ‘The Essential Cocktail’. In it he states that his recipe is reformulated to take the emphasis off of the grenadine since modern commercial grenadines are so poor.

Jack Rose

Jack Rose

  • 1 1/2 oz applejack
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice (I used 1 oz Meyer lemon juice)
  • 1/4 oz real grenadine (Torani pomegranate syrup)

Shake with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with apple slice and cherry.

After the Jack Rose, my thoughts turned to the Widow’s Kiss, a fine calvados/applejack cocktail. A nice variation on that one is the Widow’s Touch from John Gertsen of Boston’s No 9 Park, using St Germain instead of Chartreuse. Another variation that I just had to try was using applejack in a Manhattan-like recipe.

The Big Apple (Applejack Manhattan or Marconi Wireless)

  • 1 1/2 oz applejack (Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy)
  • 3/4 oz sweet vermouth (Vya)
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters (orange bitters for the Marconi)

Stir with small ice, strain and garnish with a boozy cherry. (soaked in rye, bourbon, brandy or what have you).

This one turned out very similar to a whiskey Manhattan, in fact, enough so that it didn’t seem like a good use of applejack at all. Next up is a favorite of mine, a sidecar variant using applejack:

Applecart aka Kiddie Cart

  • 1 1/2 oz applejack
  • 1 oz triple sec
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice

Shake with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass. Sugaring the rim is a nice touch.

Now, that’s a nice drink. With the 100 proof applejack and the 80 proof Citronge I used, this is a little hot, but the classic 3-2-1 sidecar formula still seems to work. One of the sweeter triple secs like Bols or a sugar rim could be used to tone it down, if desired.

My absolute favorite of all of the applejack cocktails I tried, however, and big hit with my tasters was the Applejack Old Fashioned from Misty Kalkofen of Green Street.

Applejack Old Fashioned

Applejack Old Fashioned

  • 2 oz applejack
  • 2 dashes Fee Brother’s Whiskey Barrel Aged Aromatic Bitters
  • 1 barspoon (or to taste) real maple syrup

Stir and serve in a rocks glass with a big ice chunk. Rim glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

This is really the best of the lot at showcasing the applejack. It’s basically a Plain Whiskey Cocktail with applejack and maple syrup instead of whiskey and sugar. I love how the maple really plays up the floral/fruity aspects of the applejack and the Barrel Aged bitters bring up the bottom with cinnamon and spice notes.

Thanks to Blair for re-supplying me with more of Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy when I ran out. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface with this versatile spirit here – post your favorite applejack cocktail in the comments!

More reading: